Get ready for more of foreign, yet familiar cinema
By Priyanka Khanna
New Delhi, Jan 6 (IANS) The not-so-rosy results from the first major Hollywood Hindi film co-produced by Sony Pictures notwithstanding, international investors continue to be upbeat about entering India's film trade.
"Saawariya", Sony's first Hindi-language song-and-dance film, could not match up to the other big release "Om Shanti Om", a true-blue Bollywood blockbuster starring the omnipresent Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan. But that has not dampened the enthusiasm of other big Hollywood production houses.
Even Sony Pictures is satisfied that the Sanjay Leela Bhansali film that made $20 million in its initial weeks of release compared to a production cost of $8 million. Sony has now signed an agreement with Eros International, one of the leaders in the market, under which they plan to eventually make four to six Indian films a year.
The moderate success of "Saawariya" has reassured Paramount Pictures International as well who have been long interested in the market. "A Bollywood co-production is unlikely to cost more than a couple of million dollars to make but these can generate millions," says the group's chief executive Brad Grey.
Viacom - which controls Paramount Pictures - and Indian television entrepreneur Raghav Bahl have created a new movie investment fund to capture 20-25 percent of the Bollywood market. Already, talks are on for production of four big budget films.
The budgets are hitherto not much to talk about especially when compared to Hollywood standards but given that there is only a handful of saleable stars, the budgets are sure to shoot up.
Indian entertainment was ignored by big international players largely because of the disorganised nature of the function. It is only after the government declared the sector as an industry that it has managed to become a viable investment option.
Michael Lynton, chairman and chief executive of Sony Pictures Entertainment, feels that the industry has become more like that in other parts of the world. "It looks much more like a business that we understand than perhaps it did 10 or 15 years ago and the trend is to become more like that rather than less like that," he said in an interview.
India is one market that Hollywood has failed to dominate. And sometime in 2006, international production houses decided that it would be better to join Bollywood than trying to peddle its own ware.
According to consulting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers, India's movie industry, based largely in Mumbai and in the southern states, has been growing at an annual rate of 16 percent. The industry generated revenue of Rs.84.5 billion in 2006 and is expected to be worth double that in next three years and Hollywood does not want to miss out on this great growth opportunity.
But the international production houses are finding out that it will not be a cakewalk. As director Mahesh Bhatt puts it: "I hope it ('Saawariya') will function as a wake-up call to investors in Hollywood. You may have your marketing network, you may have your inexhaustible financial resources, but you need to get a sense of the palate of the Bollywood consumer."
Here is hoping that upcoming Hollywood-Bollywood co-productions like "Roadside Romeo" and "Made in China" do better. Most importantly, it is hoped that they help push the envelope further and bring new ideas and concepts in Bollywood.
Following Sony Pictures, Walt Disney Co is set to do a dip test of the Indian market with its joint venture with Yash Raj Films to make animated films voiced by Indian movie stars gets underway.
The venture will make at least one animated film every year. With the changing global business environment, Disney is the latest to change its international strategy towards more content geared to local markets, rather than selling its US products the same way in each international market.
Even as international studios are eyeing Indian markets, Indian stars are fast occupying mind space of global audiences. After reports that Shah Rukh Khan is recognised by 3.2 billion people across the world while only 2.7 billion know Tom Cruise, box-office takings are beginning to catch up as well.
According to reports, Cruise starrer "Lions for Lambs" released about the same time as Shah Rukh's "Om Shanti Om". Cruise's $35 million movie garnered $10.3 million in 45 markets on its opening weekend. Shah Rukh's movie, also his home production, grossed $19 million worldwide in its opening weekend.
The year ahead is set to witness Bollywood striving to match Hollywood revenues.